Sunday, March 5, 2017

GERMAN ELECTIONS, 1933 | How a Democracy Was Destroyed

Elections to the Reischstag, by party, 1928-1933—Nazis got 38 percent of
seats in July 1932, 34 percent in November 1932, 45 percent in the
manipulated election of March 1933. By November 1933 all parties
 other than the Nazis were banned.
March 5, 2017 — This date in 1933 (it was a Sunday then and is again this year) was the day after FDR took the reins as President of the United States.

It was also, chillingly, the day German voters elected 288 Nazi Party members to the Weimar Republic's parliament, the Reischstag.

Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler had been appointed Reich Chancellor by German President Paul von Hindenburg, the formal head of the German Government since 1925. An aristocrat (in Germany, the von prefix signifies that someone has the title at least of Baron), von Hindenburg did not think much of upstart Adolf Hitler. However, he was at his wit's end dealing with Hitler's appeal to a totally demoralized German people. Hindenburg hoped to establish control over the Nazis by bringing Hitler into his tent.

Hitler swiftly trashed the tent...

He laid out his 1933 campaign early in the year, in a radio Appeal to the German People on February 1. He wrote most of the text of the Appeal himself. He said:
  • The Weimar coalition that ruled the country since Nov. 9, 1918, generated 14 years of "Marxist" rule (i.e., under the largest party, the Social Democrats) that dominated the other parties in the Weimar coalition. 
  • Unless the German People reacted against this "Bolshevism" there would be anarchy. 
  • Germany's fate was in the hands of Almighty God and German voters.
Here is some of the language of Hitler's Appeal. See if you don't think this sounds contemporary. Check off the buttons he is pressing:
    It is an appalling inheritance which we are taking over. The task before us is the most difficult which has faced German statesmen in living memory. But we all have unbounded confidence, for we believe in our nation and in its eternal values. Farmers, workers, and the middle class must unite to contribute the bricks wherewith to build the new Reich. The National Government will therefore regard it as its first and supreme task to restore to the German people unity of mind and will. It will preserve and defend the foundations on which the strength of our nation rests. It will take under its firm protection Christianity as the basis of our morality, and the family as the nucleus of our nation and our state. Standing above estates and classes, it will bring back to our people the consciousness of its racial and political unity and the obligations arising therefrom. It wishes to base the education of German youth on respect for our great past and pride in our old traditions. It will therefore declare merciless war on spiritual, political and cultural nihilism. Germany must not and will not sink into Communist anarchy. [Bold face added. That Hitler claimed Christianity was the basis of his morality was a shocker to me. On the racial front, he turned out to be as evil as he promised he would be.]
Hitler pays his (last) respects to 
democracy in 1933.

That 1933 election was the last that West Germans were able to vote in until 1949, and it was the last free election in a united Germany until 1990.

The March 1933 election made the Nazis not only the largest party, but a party large enough to exceed comfortably any likely coalition. With just 33 percent of the German voters, the Nazi Party gained 44.5 percent of the votes in the Reichstag.

Hitler's Nazi Party had previously gotten nowhere, with less than 3 percent of the German electorate before the Crash of 1929 (see table above). Between 1928 and 1930, the Nazi Party grew from the ninth-largest party to the second-largest, with 18 percent of the vote in the Reichstag.

Two years later, the Nazi Party was the largest. The reason was a series of financial disasters that became global with the Wall Street Crash of October 1929. The disasters crushed the  German economy and the Weimar Government seemed powerless to do anything about it. When the cost of rampant speculation in the 1920s is evaluated by history, the rise of Hitler, the Holocaust and the Second World War should be put on the ledger sheet.

Nazi "Ballot", 1938 edition. Vote "YES"
[Ja] for Hitler, or "No" [Nein] for 
Trouble. [Vote No, and we will find you.]
To gain absolute power after the March 5 election, Hitler engineered the Enabling Act on March 23, 1933. This made Hitler dictator of Germany, subject only to the approval of President von Hindenburg.

Approval of the Reichstag became unnecessary. Within months Hitler banned all parties other than the Nazi Party. As of November 1933, the Reichstag became a vestigial assembly of Nazi party members.

That left in Hitler's way just von Hindenburg, who in July 1934 was 86 years old and dying of lung cancer. On August 1, Hitler's cabinet passed the "Law Concerning the Highest State Office of the Reich," which stipulated that upon the death of von Hindenburg, the offices of president and chancellor would be merged. Hitler would then be accountable to no one, becoming Führer und Reichskanzler des deutschen Volkes.

In 1922 Hitler's anti-Semitism was
dismissed as "not so genuine or violent..."
Then Hitler flew to Neudeck, to the bedside of von Hindenburg.

Conveniently, the President died the very next day. Hitler consolidated his dictatorship and that was the end of democracy in Germany until the Bundestag was formed in West Germany after the war. 

Democracy for all of Germany did not return until reunification in 1990.

In the United States, meanwhile, FDR took office and quickly turned around the financial panic with the round-the-clock help of his Republican Treasury Secretary, William H. Woodin.  U.S. financial markets were restored to stability, and economic recovery was started.

Unfortunately, it was too late to change the dim view in Europe of American democracy and capitalism since the Crash. Desperate German voters were an easy mark for Nazi demagogues. In the wake of the Panic and Depression, a mad hater had taken control of that country. FDR and other world leaders would have to confront this for the rest of his presidency.

Hitler's assumption of sole power had not been expected in the United States. On Nov. 21, 1922, The New York Times reported that Hitler's anti-Semitic propaganda was just "a bait to catch masses of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic and in line[...]" (see clip). The New York Times story refers to the "Hitler organization" as a violation of the military clauses of the Versailles Treaty, and refers to "its predecessor" — the Orgesch.

The Orgesch was named after a forgotten forerunner of Hitler, Georg Escherich (1870-1941). Escherish was a forester and politician with the Bavarian People's Party, which had 18 members elected to the Reichstag on the last ballot in March 1933 (see table at top). Since 1919 he headed the Bavarian Einwohnerwehren, the anti-communist home guard groups. In 1920 Escherich organized his supporters into the Orgesch (from "Organization Escherich"), an anti-Semitic paramilitary group, which violated the Versailles Treaty limit on the size of the German army to 100,000 troops referred to in the NY Times clip. The Orgesch established links with the Heimwehr in Austria, an early harbinger of the Anschluss. The Orgesch was disarmed and disbanded on the orders of the Allies in 1921 as part of wider moves against private armies that had sprouted up in Germany since the Armistice.

But as one devil was killed, seven new ones rose to take its place – the militias of the right, such as the Sturmabteilung and the Stahlhelm, Bund der Frontsoldaten, which grew in size until they were disbanded in 1933 in favor of Adolf Hitler's personal bodyguard, the super-sadistic Schutzstaffel or S.S.

One year ago, Timothy Egan's Op-Ed column today, "The Beast Is Us," suggests why everyone alive today who is concerned about keeping American democracy should remember March 5, 1933 — the day one-third of Germans voted and elected a dictator bent on a world war, enough voters to end contested elections while Germany took the world into war.

Postscript, April 2, 2017: Christopher R. Browning, Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, reviews a 998-page book by Volker Ullrich in the April 20 issue of The New York Review of Books (pp. 10, 12, 14). The book, Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939 (Knopf), shows how Hitler rose out of a weak democracy to become Germany's Führer. While noting major differences, Browning also notes some disturbing similarities between the Weimar era in Germany and American democracy in 2016-2017. He concludes:
Weimar parliamentary government had been supplanted by presidentially appointed chancellors ruling through the emergency decree powers of an antidemocratic president [Paul von Hindenburg] since 1930. In 1933 Hitler simply used this post-democratic stopgap system to install a totalitarian dictatorship with incredible speed and without serious opposition. If we can still effectively protect American democracy from dictatorship, then certainly one lesson from the study of the demise of Weimar and the ascent of Hitler is how important it is to do it early. (My emphasis.)
A Time Line on Hitler's ascendancy to power shows the erosion of Germany democracy over many years.

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